FREMONT COUNTY — Fremont County landfill fees may go up, and that doesn’t sit well with some residents.
Fremont County officials held a public hearing on March 30 regarding proposed increases in fees to generate funds for multiple landfill closures and other projects.
Fremont County Public Works Director Brandon Harris made a presentation before the public comment period.
Harris said regulations imposed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are behind the proposed increases.
In his presentation, Harris said that in the next 10 to 15 years, the county needs almost $11 million above operating costs to be prepared.
Some of the money will go directly into a “financial assurance” fund to have on hand in the event of an emergency.
“If anything happens to the environment, we have to have money in the coffers to mitigate any damage and close the landfill, so it does not contaminate the groundwater,” Harris said.
The county is audited by the agencies to ensure it has the minimum amount of money required to be able to take action immediately in the event of an emergency.
Harris said funding options include loans, grants and fee increases on residents.
He said even if some grant funds are available, the most he would expect to get is $400,000.
“What I’m getting at is that we can’t bank on getting grants for these projects,” he said.
Harris said there are only two options for loans. He said IDEQ and Rural Development loans are the two available sources, but it is very difficult to get loans from either of them.
He said IDEQ gives loans for sewer and water systems, but it is less likely to receive a loan for solid waste.
He said fees are unfortunately one of the only ways to generate the amount of money necessary quickly enough.
Currently, each home pays about $10.10 per month in solid waste rates. If the proposed fees are approved, those same households will pay about $25.25.
“The biggest thing that is governing the fee increase is the closure of the cells. We need $2 million in two years in order to get that project done,” Harris said.
The county is being required to close the St. Anthony landfill in the next two years because it is currently above 99 percent capacity. The Island Park landfill will be at its capacity between 2025 and 2030.
To properly “close” the landfill, they have to cover the garbage with other material that will keep water from seeping into the garbage and polluting the groundwater.
“In reality, it should have been increased five or 10 years ago, but the commissioners and everyone wanted to keep finding money,” Harris said.
He said that they also need to plan with a range of money in mind in case unexpected issues come up, but if the fee increase is approved, the county will have enough money by 2017 to complete the required closure.
Several business owners and residents, predominantly from Island Park, expressed their concerns and dislike of the fee increases.
Chad Bauer of Island Park said his sewer bill increased by three times in the period of one and a half years.
“I currently pay $7,000 annually for my property. This proposed increase would have me pay $18,000. As a business owner, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can make up the difference,” Bauer said.
Wendell Winegar of Bill’s Island said he didn’t understand why the issue wasn’t addressed sooner if the county already knew about it.
He said his businesses are only seasonally active, and there, it’s difficult to make enough money to compensate for the increase.
“We’re paying year-round for something we don’t use,” Winegar said. “I think it’s ludicrous the county will impose on a basis on an area that’s already paying the highest percentage of the county’s taxes.”
Winegar also asked why recycling was not being considered.
Harris explained the landfill has not been accepting plastics for about the last year because they used to send their recyclables to Idaho Falls, and then Idaho Falls would send the plastics to China. Officials then realized some of the waste was being recycled, and some of it was being burned, so the company in Idaho Falls could no longer send the plastic overseas.
“For the last eight or nine months, the plastics have just been going into the landfill. It’s to the point we don’t know when we’re going to be able to start accepting plastics again.”
After the public comment period was completed, the commissioners thanked everyone for coming and said they would make a decision about whether or not to approve the fee increase in 60 days.